The last time I rented a car in the UAE was back in 2006 when I was fresh off the plane and very quickly decided that Dubai was going to be intolerable without a car. Taxis as public transport, no matter how cheap, was a notion that was totally offensive to a Sydneysider, where cabs are a bit of an indulgence and only the seriously spoilt don't catch buses or trains. So I hired an electric blue Volkswagen Polo with rubbish AC and all the power of a roller skate. As soon as I had residency, I ditched the spluttering Polo for a Mitsubishi Pajero and quickly embraced the joy of owning a car with height, might and a V6 engine.
But now it was time to relive my early UAE days with the rental car shoot-out and thus I left the Pajero at the office and became a temporary Nissan Tiida driver. While I borrowed my Nissan Tiida from Abu Dhabi's Al Masaood dealership, I still felt like I was able to relive my rental car days - the Tiida had done more than 5,000km, there were a few little scratches on it (although nothing as spectacular as some of the marks on the red Toyota Yaris my colleague Nick rented) and despite the big No Smoking sticker plastered on the glove box, there was a faint whiff of ciggies.
When you don't smoke, you can sniff out a smoker's car like a bloodhound. The people at the dealership were very apologetic that I wasn't given a brand new, fresh-from-the-factory car but I felt it created an authentic rental car experience. And just like my electric blue rental car days, the Tiida was in a colour I'd never choose on a car I was buying. It was a fetching metallic chartreuse green, similar to the stylish leather gloves Michelle Obama wore for her husband's presidential inauguration. But I was soon grateful to be green when I was out and about in the cut and thrust of Abu Dhabi's traffic in a small car. It's an easy colour to spot in a city where small cars tend to be invisible.
One of the first things I noticed when I got behind the wheel of the Tiida was the attitude I took on when I was out and about. While I may flirt more at traffic lights in a Merc or a Jag and forget my manners in a 4x4 behemoth, I found that in a perky green Tiida, I was a right cheeky monkey because it's an easy car for darting in and out of traffic. I was able to nimbly execute swift lane changes in small spaces where my Pajero would never fit - or if I tried in the Pajero, I could expect to get honked. The Tiida's great visibility with a panoramic windscreen, excellent mirrors and plenty to be seen out the back was also a tremendous help when flinging a car this small through the capital.
If you're a newcomer to the UAE, the Tiida is definitely a good car to rent for a gentle introduction to this country's sometimes hair-raising, hare-brained driving conditions. Another bonus, especially for the Abu Dhabi-based driver is that it can be parked pretty much anywhere with little drama. Even when a Nissan Patrol showed a distinct lack of brand solidarity and blocked me in, I was able to jiggle the Tiida out, albeit with the assistance of a friendly passer-by.
Naturally for a car that only costs Dh57,000 brand new, it's not going to be equipped with every luxury, gimmick, bell and whistle on the market. However, the standard accoutrements such as power steering, electric windows and remote central locking are all there along with a pleasant fabric interior called Sand Beige. Better something smart and conservative rather than indulge in the hideous temptation of the small car designer, which is to try and go all ker-razy and kooky with lurid colours and seizure-inducing squiggles.
Lifting the hatch revealed generous boot space for a small car - far more generous than Nick's Yaris which seemed barely capacious enough for a tennis racquet, let alone the set of golf clubs that always seem to be the yardstick by which people judge boot space. The Tiida's boot proved very handy on an extensive trip to Al Wahda Mall involving too much money spent on clothes and groceries. My temporary Tiida didn't have CD player, just a tape player and radio, which was a bit of a downer, even though I am still partial to slipping a compilation tape into my car. The rather plasticky shiny steering wheel made my hands sweat and I wasn't a fan of the closeness of Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive and the low range gears on the gear selector. The console has the letters and numbers in a teeny-tiny font and it makes it too easy to slip it into the wrong gear by accident. Visions of elderly drivers ploughing into lounge rooms after accidentally knocking the car into Drive or Reverse danced in my head and even though I'm pretty sure I'm not elderly just yet, I paid extra attention to what gear I was in. Like most small automatics, the transmission had a tendency to shift gears late and a paddle manual option, like that found in the Honda Jazz and the Volkswagen Golf GTI, would be an excellent additional selling point. Something perhaps for Nissan to think about with the next model - it would add a wee bit to the purchase price but it would be a great improvement especially for renters who have come to the UAE from car cultures such as Europe and Britain where most small cars sold have a manual trans- mission.
The car had a 1.6-litre engine and as such, there was no eye-popping performance and at speeds faster than about 75kph, it was pretty noisy. But for loading up with a reasonable quantity of shopping, being an easy way to get from A to B and as a car in which new arrivals can acquit themselves with UAE driving, the Tiida is likely to continue to sell well for permanent buyers as well as the rental companies.